Losing our Goat to Bloat

This last week was a rough one at the farm, as my favorite goat died from bloat. Here’s what happened.

I’m not happy to be sharing this story. As farmers, we take on the responsibility of these animals and so it is our duty to give them the best care we can. Keep them safe and healthy. Sometimes despite our best efforts we lose one. The loss is never easy. It feels shameful and devastating that you failed to keep an animal alive.

In sharing this story I hope it achieves two things. First, I hope it helps a goat out there somewhere survive a case of bloat. Second, I hope that it might serve as a source of comfort for another farmer or homesteader who is dealing with the loss of a farm animal. Death is a part of farm life, and you are not alone in your loss.

Finally, this is a story for that purpose only, telling a tale. Please consult your veterinarian for your animals if you suspect bloat.

This story goes into full detail of a goat’s death, so reader discretion is advised.

King the Goat

King was a Nubian buck who came to us last fall. He arrived along with another buck, his son, Graham Cracker.

I liked King right form the get-go and he quickly became my favorite of our goats. He had a very sweet demeanor, not too pushy or nibbly. He had a very high little goat nicker that he’d often softy make if you gave him a good scratch behind the ears or brought a little treat. He wagged his tail when you gave him attention. He was cooperative with hoof trims and as far as bucks go, gentlemanly with our ladies when it was time for breeding.

A Compromised Immune System

Unfortunately, King was sickly from the start. We got him from people and a farm we trust completely, so I’m not sure why he never flourished here.


About a week after we got him home, he was very ill with pneumonia. It happened fast. He was fine at evening chores, then in the morning he was pretty much on death’s door. I sat out with him for hours as we waited for the vet to come. My daughter Jane, was two months old at the time and snug in her baby wrap, tucked under my hoodie as we sat out in the barn, making sure he kept under the heat lamps.

He made a full recovery thanks to Draxxin and another medication (can’t remember which it was now) that our vet left with us.

Coccidiosis and Possibly Mange

Over the winter he struggled to keep on weight. We checked him for worms, and there was nothing happening there. At the advice of our vet, we supplemented his feed with about a cup of corn every day to try and bulk him up.

It seemed to be helping, until his hair all started falling out. Vet came out again, and the best we could figure it was some type of mange. None of our other goats had any issues or symptoms. We treated him with two doses of ivermectin. “All I can figure,” said our vet, “Is that goat has a severely compromised immune system.” Within a couple of weeks King had put on a lot of weight, his coat had grown back, and he was looking sleek and healthy, albeit still a little on the thinner side.

He did well most of the summer, but then a few weeks ago he started losing his hair and getting thin again. We gave him another dose of ivermectin. Not long after that, he exhibited signs of having Coccidiosis, a nasty parasite that lives in the goat’s intestinal tract. So we treated for that with Corrid.

That brings us up to his last day.

Goat Health on our Farm

Before I continue, I’d like to say that King is the only goat we have ever had with such a complicated health history. We’ve had eight goats in the last two years and never has one had so may health issues. We’ve had to give a de-wormer here and there. We had one goat that ended up with minor hoof rot that we treated with blue coat and some strategic hoof trimming, but that’s about it.

Our animals are moved to fresh pasture every day or two. We supplement with a little hay if grazing is sparse. Goats get regular hoof trims and copper boluses. We do fecal egg counts rather than a consistent worming schedule to help reduce parasite resistance and avoid over treating our animals.

We have goat mineral available at all times, fresh water, and baking soda so they can utilize that when they do get a bit gassy.

We also don’t bring a lot of new goats on to the property, to keep exposure to outside illness at a minimum.

King’s Last Day

The evening before King died, he seemed perfectly fine. There was nothing out of the ordinary about him or his behavior.

The next morning when I went out for chores, I knew immediately he wasn’t well. Instead of trotting over to say good morning, he stayed laying down. His eyes looked glazed, he seemed a little sunken around the eyes, a sign of dehydration. He didn’t want to eat or drink, and every now and again he gave a little groan of discomfort. No signs of bloat that I could see.

I called the vet right away, suspecting we had another case of pneumonia. The night had been an unusually chilly one with some moisture, something that can cause pneumonia. Goats who have had pneumonia before are more susceptible to get it again.

Within an hour I had driven to town and back for one injectable and one oral medication from our local vet. I gave him the medicine, offered him food and water again, and planned to check on him soon. Again, no signs of bloat that I could see.


A couple hours later when I returned to check on him, bloat was incredibly obvious. He was lying on his side, belly huge, giving soft moans of pain. I immediately ran to the house and got vegetable oil and an oral syringe, and a mixture of baking soda, water, and a little molasses. I gave him both. He wasn’t interested in swallowing so I rubbed his throat to help him get it down.

The vet was called, he told us to give him penicillin orally and by injection. I gave him both.

After the oil and baking soda, and penicillin, he wasn’t improved at all. In fact his bloated stomach looked worse.

Last Resort

The next two options I knew of were a trocar, and a tube down into his rumen/stomach. I thought through an inventory of our home and farm, and knew there wasn’t a tube that we had that would be thin, long, and durable enough for the task. A trip to town for one would be over an hour and we didn’t have time.

So I went with a trocar, using the largest gauge needle we had on hand. A trocar is basically a sharp tube you poke into the side of the goat, through their stomach (rumen) wall to dispel the gas. They make actual trocars, but of course we didn’t have one on hand so I improvised.

At first it seemed to be working well. I could feel the gas coming out steadily through the needle. He even started holding his head up and looking around. I had a feeling of relief, that we were going to be out of the woods.

Then quite suddenly he put his head down again, and tensed up. The bloat still seemed to have gone way down, but he was feeling worse and I didn’t know why or what to do different.

I felt helpless, especially since at the time I had to go and get my daughter who had been up from her nap for a while.

I told King to hold on, that I would be back as quickly as I could. I ran to the house. In twenty minutes I changed, fed, and nursed my daughter. I set her up in the living room, safe with a few toys, and ran back out to check on King.

He had died.

What Should We Have Done Differently?

Our vet believed that King died from overeating. Bloat can be caused by this, by rich feed, or a toxic plant. King had never overeaten before. We did have new hay, but they had been on it for days and it was from the same cutting and the same farm as our other bales. It could be possible that maybe that one bale was especially rich, or had some sort of strange weed in it. All our other goats, including his pasture mate were on the exact same hay and no one else had any issues.

After looking back at the day, there are a few things I might have done differently.

  1. Treated with vegetable oil and baking soda immediately. Even if he had pneumonia, this certainly wouldn’t have caused any harm.
  2. Had a tube and trocar on hand. You can bet we will now have the proper type of tubing and trocar on hand for treating bloat. A trocar especially is a sort of last resort option. Still, I can’t help but think it might have been enough to save him.
  3. Have the vet come out, not just consult over the phone. Since King had been similarly ill before, I thought if we did the same treatment we’d be alright. If the vet had been out earlier in the day, before the bloat was severe he might have identified that we weren’t dealing with pneumonia and used different interventions.

Coming to Terms with King’s Death

I cried good and hard about King. He was my favorite goat, such a dopey sweetheart, and I had failed him. He was going on six years old, not young but not especially old either. In my mind we would never sell him, maybe wether (neuter) him at some point and let him live out his days as companion to his son. Hopefully one day at an old age he would lay down to nap and just not wake up. I never imagined he would die as he did.

As I sobbed on our living room couch, my husband offered me some comfort. That King, for the time we had him, was always sickly. That I had always fixed him up and gotten him the care that he needed right away. That this time was no different. I had acted immediately to get him help, and I had done all I could.

If you are reading this after the loss of your own animal. I know you did the best you could too, and I hope you find comfort in that.

Laying him to Rest

We keep our grazing areas sectioned off by moveable electric fence. King was the first to let me know if it wasn’t working, as he’d awkwardly climb over it or just bull-headed walk through it to graze as he pleased.

There was one particular spot in the pasture he liked to escape to. He’d nibble the grasses and weeds there, then usually settle in to nap in the sun. His head tilted upwards, enjoying the warmth and a lazy day. I’d curse his escape, but always appreciate his contentedness.

That’s where I chose to bury him. There I hope his sweet spirit can rest in the sunshine, his grandgoats running and playing in the grass all around him.

Our handsome boy last fall.

For more information on goat bloat and treating it you can visit here.

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One Comment

  1. I’m sorry for you loss of King and I agree with Ben – you loved and took care of him. He had a happy goat life!

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